“Mr Justice Archie and Mr Justice Kangaloo took the decision to return the instruments which granted the title of Senior Counsel so graciously presented to them by His Excellency at the special ceremony last Friday, December 30, 2011, emphasising that they in no way wished to reproach his Excellency the President, nor the Executive by this decision,” a statement from the Department of Court Administration of the Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago said yesterday.
The one-page statement said the judges’ actions were taken in the “interest of preserving the integrity and dignity of the Judiciary which is one of the fundamental pillars of democratic Trinidad and Tobago and which they are committed not only to robustly defend but also to scrupulously uphold.”
Archie and Kangaloo, have, however, indicated that they will ventilate their views on the issue surrounding the granting of silk at a later date.
According to the statement from the Department of Court Administration, Archie and Kangaloo met with Richards, at their request, at 4.30 pm yesterday during which the judges expressed their views on the ongoing controversy on their receipt of Silk as sitting judges of the Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago.
“Both the Chief Justice and Mr Justice Kangaloo remain firm in their view that no wrong was committed in their acceptance of silk from the President and that their actions are very defensible and breached no protocol which was previously adhered to,” the statement said.
“However, they are deeply concerned that the heightening controversy has the potential to impact negatively on the Judiciary of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and the relations it treasures with its stakeholders.”
The Chief Justice and Kangaloo’s decision to return their instruments follows severe criticisms by eminent Senior Counsels in the country, including Queen’s Counsel Karl Hudson-Phillips, who, in an exclusive Newsday report published on Wednesday, called on the judges to return their instruments of appointments forthwith as their acceptance of it was not in keeping with the concept of the separation of powers between the Judiciary and the Executive. Also coming out in condemnation of their acceptance of the Silk were former Chief Justices Michael de la Bastide, Sat Sharma, as well as Senior Counsels Martin Daly and Kenneth Lalla.
Last night, Hudson-Phillips, responding to the judges’ decision to return their instruments of appointment, commented, “I am relieved that the proper and right thing has been done.”
In a release early yesterday, which had also been issued to media houses by the Department of Court Administration, Archie had questioned whether his and Kangaloo’s decision to accept the award of Silk from the President on the recommendation of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, constituted, by itself, a breach of the separation of powers or was a threat to the independence of the Judiciary.
Archie said if this was so, his predecessors, de la Bastide and Sharma, should never have accepted national awards while in office.
“An important point is being missed in the whole controversy over the alleged breach of the separation of powers,”Archie had said in a one-page statement early yesterday.
“It cannot be that the grant of an honour or award by His Excellency the President to a sitting judge on the recommendation of the Honourable Prime Minister is, by itself, a breach of the separation of powers or a threat to the independence of the Judiciary, else those persons, including former Chief Justice, the Honourable Michael de la Bastide and the Honourable Mr Justice Satnarine Sharma, who as sitting judges accepted national awards, would have been guilty of condoning such a breach and should consider returning them.”
Last night, Daly stated that there was absolutely no similarity between receiving a national award and accepting an appointment as a Senior Counsel. “The two things are completely different,” he said. Daly made it clear that at no time were the appointments of the Prime Minister and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan criticised.
Archie and Kangaloo were among 16 legal luminaries who were elevated to the rank of Senior Counsel during a ceremony at Knowsley in Port-of-Spain on December 29, 2011.
Since the event, though, there have been vehement calls by several eminent jurists for him and Kangaloo to return their Silk, given their portfolios and the likelihood that their newly-acquired status could threaten the independence of the Judiciary.
Archie had wondered in the earlier release, whether the objection was to “the particular award, the particular judges or the particular Prime Minister.
“If there can be some clarity on that, then perhaps we can have a meaningful and constructive debate,” Archie said, adding he would remain silent on the matter until those issues were clarified.
However, hours later, he and Kangaloo changed their minds and went to the President to return their letters of appointment.
Early yesterday, though, Hudson-Phillips, in response to Archie’s first statement, regarded Archie’s justification for retaining his Silk as an “alarming lack of understanding of what is thought to be a be a very important institution in Trinidad and Tobago under his purview.”
“His release can be considered a perverse avoidance of a serious issue. The sole and only issue is that sitting judges should not apply for and accept silk,” he said.
“His release has succeeded in further embroiling the entire Judiciary in political controversy by personalising this important matter.”
Meanwhile, the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago confirmed the information that Archie and Kangaloo had returned their instruments of appointment as Senior Counsel to the President.
The association’s president, Dana Seetahal, SC, said the council met yesterday in emergency session to consider the recent appointments of Senior Counsel.
However, Seetahal distanced herself from the perception that she, as president, had been consulted about the appointments.
“The council notes statements made in the public domain to the effect that the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago was consulted with reference to the recent appointments,” she said.
“The locus classicus decision of ex parte Coughlan 2001 QB 213 establishes that consultation must be undertaken at a time when proposals are still at a formative stage; it must include sufficient reasons for particular proposals to allow those consulted to give intelligent consideration and an intelligent response; adequate time must be given for this purpose and the product of consultation must be conscientiously taken into account when the ultimate decision is taken.”
Seetahal said as president, she was contacted via telephone by Ramlogan when information was given “to the effect that certain names (not including some of the sixteen) were being considered for Silk..”
However, she pointed out that in the ensuing conversation “neither sufficient information nor adequate time was given and the president never understood the conversation to have taken place as part of a consultative process.
“The council therefore does not accept that either its president or the Law Association was consulted,” she said.
Seetahal said at yesterday’s emergency meeting of the association, a petition was presented requesting a special meeting to pass resolutions regretting Archie and Kangaloo’s decision to accept the title of Silk while sitting on the Bench.
The resolution was also expected to call on Archie and Kangaloo to return their instruments of appointment “in the shortest possible time.”
She said the association had also intended to call on the Government to appoint an independent committee of persons in consultation with the council to propose the procedure for the award of Senior Counsel and the obligations of those to whom the honour is given.